Victory for Attorneys in Minnesota’s Legal Market

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · June 28, 2011


St. Paul, Minn.—Yesterday, the Minnesota Supreme Court ended the American Bar Association’s (ABA) stranglehold over legal education and changed the admission rules to allow licensed attorneys from other states to sit for the Minnesota bar examination even when they graduated from a non-ABA accredited law school.

Before yesterday’s stunning rebuke to Minnesota’s legal establishment, anyone who wanted to become a licensed attorney in Minnesota had to earn a law degree from a law school accredited by the ABA. This meant that licensed lawyers who graduated from one of more than 40 state-accredited and registered law schools in the country could not practice in Minnesota.

This past rule prohibited graduates of more affordable law schools from practicing because the ABA requires law schools to meet unnecessary requirements in order to be accredited, such as large law libraries, and does not recognize schools that offer primarily online and distance learning programs.

“The ABA, State Bar Association and the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners fought against modernity at every turn,” said Lee McGrath, executive director of the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter, which supported the petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court to change its rule. “But because of the court’s decision, Minnesota consumers will have a wider range of qualified attorneys, including those willing to compete by offering more affordable rates. A competitive marketplace is the best regulator and serves consumers far better than a handful of overseers appointed by the industry itself.”

Micah Stanley and three other licensed attorneys asked the court to reconsider the rule in 2009. Along with IJ-Minnesota, they were helped by one of Minnesota’s more respected attorneys, Roger Magnuson.

“I received an outstanding legal education and passed one of the toughest bar exams in the country—the California bar. I am thrilled that lawyers in similar situations will be permitted to work in Minnesota,” said Stanley, a graduate of non-ABA accredited Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy. “Not only has the Minnesota Supreme Court finally opened the doors to alternative online education within the state’s legal community, but it signaled to other high courts across the nation that the ABA’s accreditation monopoly stands no more.”

Minnesota’s new rule is similar to a rule that the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted in 1998. Approximately 30 attorneys who graduated from non-ABA-accredited laws schools have become licensed to practice law in the Badger state. Importantly, there is no evidence of malpractice, as none of those attorneys has been disciplined during the more than a dozen years since the more liberal rule went into effect.

“This is just one example of a national problem in which industry cartels use government power to protect themselves from competition,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice. “Protecting economic liberty and ending government-enforced cartels require judicial engagement—a willingness by the courts to confront what is often really going on when the government enacts licensing laws supposedly to protect the public. We are pleased that the Minnesota Supreme Court demonstrated its willingness to be engaged in this important issue of economic liberty.”